It often seems that history can be the hardest theme to communicate; how can you, credibly, bring places and people back to life once times have moved on? How you can give a balanced view of past times without your reflections being overly vitriolic or dismissive?
Over the years, certain pieces of art have done a great job of capturing history. For our own history in the North East we’ve been lucky to have, amongst other great works, both Billy Elliot and the Pitmen painters which have theatrically brought to life many of the characteristics and traditions of Northern East life.
Of those traditions, it’s fair to say that no other industry has done as much to shape the history of the North East than that of coal mining. Mining provided a working environment which helped to create our culture including where we lived, how we lived, how we unionised ourselves and how we socialised. It also provided a set of traditional social behaviours where we were proud to work and proud of our work.
Further, it could be argued that it was the inherent danger of mining that gave us a sense of community spirit; a willingness to look after each other, to be friendly and to look for the humour, rather than the hardship, in times. Of all the behaviours that mining gave the North East, these surely must be the ones that still underpin the very best of the North Eastern people.
Sadly the time of coal mining has gone, and can probably never happen again, but it’s fair to say that it shaped and changed the whole North Eastern existence.
Anything can be done to keep the memories, and the impact, of those times alive should be championed. Those memories are important, they’re what made and shaped us.
Of the options we have, the Pitman Poets must be right at the top of the list. Set to a backdrop of archive footage and photographs, the poets provide a musical journey which documents what coal mining was, in all it’s beauty and hardships, rather than a wistful, rose tinted, ‘you’ve never had it so good’ tale.
The show tells the story of coal in the North East through a timeline spanning the beginnings of mining, through the apex of the mining boom (and it’s importance to the local social and geographical background) to it’s slow, intensely political and unionised, decline and the resulting aftermath.
Ex-Lindisfarne singer and writer Billy Mitchell, songman from London’s west end musical Warhorse, Bob Fox, leading exponent of Tyneside song Benny Graham, and much-covered Folk Awards nominee songwriter Jez Lowe provide songs and humour which document the coal story in a poignant and funny way.
Set to a traditional North Eastern sounding folk, and blending powerful Crosby-Still-Nash-Young esque vocals, the poets provide strong, emotive, music with voices that are both beautiful, bruised and strong enough to carry all of the emotions those years gave us.
As a collective music and visual show the Pitman Poets strive to freshen old news, bathing the audience in wise melancholy and making history stand out alongside nostalgia, happiness and pride.
If you have an interest in the North East, our culture, our history, or even just want to hear powerful folk music with a strong message, this is strongly advised. I wonder how well has history ever been sound tracked as well?